Posted by: tomciocco | July 27, 2008

FALANGHINA…NOW THAT SOUNDS LIKE A FUN AND ALLURING LITTLE WINE

And indeed it is. If you’ve been spending inordinate amounts of time (and perhaps money) exploring whites from other parts, I’d like to throw a rock in Campania’s direction hoping that maybe you’ll look over there for a drink. If you’re already drinking Falanghina, read on and feel vindicated. 

As the title implies, the subtley exotic, and marked vivacious Falanghina (fah-lan-GHEE-na), is probably the least famous vine in the Campanian “big three” triumverate of white grapes, which also includes the structured and (sometimes austerely) elegant Greco, and the full-bodied and fragrant Fiano. These two varieties are thought by many to have the ability to produce more “serious” dry white wines than Falanghina is usually thought to be capable of (though the one below drank with more dimentionality than any other I’d previously drunk). All in all this assertion is more true than not, but I’d counter-argue that of the three grapes, Falanghina is the one that has the fewest comparables or substitutes – that it gives the most distinctive performances, while duly noting that neither Greco nor Fiano wines are anything to be sneezed at in terms of new or uncommon flavor profiles!    

And I think as I write this that wines made from wonderful but admittedly “challenged” grape varieties like Falanghina are no longer available in only a handful of big-city Italian restaurants, but in little shops and trattorie  worldwide. No, it’s not Pinot Grigio (thankfully) or even Gavi or Tocai in terms of notoriety much less pronounceability, but to me the ability to overcome some pretty stiff odds from within Italy as well as from without is a direct testament to the grape’s great charms…

I knew that Falanghina had finally nosed its way into curious drinkers’ greater “rotation” of white wines when it was mentioned in an episode of THE SOPRANOS (the one in which Furio Giunta is buying a house…Speaking –  if I remember correctly – to Carmella Soprano, Furio motions to a spot behind a proscective new abode and says something like “…and back there is a place for the Falanghina”) What better way to cement a wine’s reputation than to put its name in the mouth of a fictional camorrista , right?

Anyway, Falanghina is an exceedingly ancient variety whose cultivation can fairly clearly be traced back to Rome’s earliest days, and is thought to be the variety that was the principal, if not the sole grape in the Roman-era appellation called Falernum, which was the most highly valued  wine region in all of Roman Italy. Falernum was, and still is located, under the modern name Falerno del Massico, in the northwestern-most part of modern-day Campania, hard by the border with Lazio. Falerno del Massico is just one of the Campanian appelations that can be made from 100% Falanghina; others include DOCs like Galluccio, Sannio, and Solopaca. Tenuta Ponte’s Falanghina is not even classified as a DOC wine, but rather in the less stringent, in terms of permissable grape varieties, vineyard sites, and yields, IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) classifcation. This makes the great succes of this wine all the more amazing.

I served this wine with a frittata made with some leftover pepper and cream sauced penne. In my culinary “travels” I have found that Falanghina, like Sauvignon Blanc, pairs very well with the often difficult to match egg dish (and that is almost all of them), and indeed if pressed to liken Falanghina to a better known grape, it would be Sauvignon Blanc, but think Sancerre rather than Marlborough, but better still just think Falanghina…The notes:

Tenuta Ponte Falanghina Beneventana IGT 2007 (? – no vintage on label) 

Somewhat uncharacteristically golden color…Piercing nose of candied citron and ginger, sawn aromatic wood, and a drop of brown butter. The body is fairly big but still fresh with flavors of pear, beeswax, lemon zest and apricot jam, with a very long finish.

Some of the descriptors above might lead one to think that this wine may have seen some barrel-aging, but this is NOT the case – rather I think that is the result of a decidedly POSITIVE development of the wine in the bottle, but one that with further advancement might lead to less than positive, oxidized future. That said, this wine showed more complexity than almost any other Falanghina I’ve yet come across, and this is a great development for the variety, but the spector of bottle variation looms in wings nonetheless.

TOM CIOCCO

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